The DOJ-FTC IP Guidelines: Suggestions for Promoting Innovation
The proposed guidelines are founded on a commendable set of underlying assumptions: that intellectual property (“IP”) is, for antitrust purposes, amenable to the same sort of analysis that applies to other forms of property, and, that IP licensing presents presumptively procompetitive opportunities for market actors to manage their property rights.
As the proposed guidelines recognize, licensing, along with a variety of vertical arrangements, frequently allows separate firms to realize efficiencies in the production, marketing and commercialization process that are otherwise difficult, if not impossible, to achieve individually.1 As the proposed guidelines note, this translates not merely into single firms commercializing a particular discovery, but also into their undertaking a variety of licensing relationships that, for example, encourage licensees to further improve upon the original invention.
More broadly, in many cases, licensing arrangements allow inventive firms that lack sufficient capital to license inventions to firms that are better positioned to engage in the efficient production of complicated or expensive processes and products. Economic literature broadly recognizes the value of this form of specialization,2 and the proposed guidelines are to be commended for likewise recognizing this reality and generally encouraging the practice.
Although, in short, our assessment of the proposed guidelines is positive, we offer some constructive criticism in the remainder of this comment. In particular, we believe, first, that the proposed guidelines should more strongly recognize that a refusal to license does not deserve special scrutiny; and, second, that traditional antitrust analysis is largely inappropriate for the examination of innovation or R&D markets.